Jerry Kramer, Alicia, The Chancellor & A Hall of Fame Trip

 

As we near the 2018 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony it’s impossible not to look back at how we got here. It seems surreal as so many fans didn’t think we would see the day when Jerry Kramer would get that call to the hall. That knock on the door.

kramersWhere our odyssey began was the birth of all this love of football which started in the summer heat in Denver Colorado 1977. Outside throwing a football around when I came in to cool off and an “NFL Presents” had a special on “The Ice Bowl.” I can remember being glued to the tv as the Packers and Cowboys played in what looked like ungodly weather. Of course with John Facenda’s narrative he made the names of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Willie Davis, Tom Landry and Jerry Kramer become etched in my mind.

Several weeks later school had started and my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Carmen and I were in the library and she gave me Jerry Kramer’s Distant Replay to read. After that I brought home at least 3 books on football a week or was reading the old NFL Punt, Pass, & Kick books at the Boys Club. Of course when I wasn’t outside playing football but the pilot light was on and I wanted to read more first on Kramer’s Packers and beyond.

Fast forward many decades and into the social media age and I looked up a couple of random old school football players and connected. Jerry was one of them. Of course to say hello and was a fan of his and make a mild acquaintance. Then in early 2010 things changed… Bored with several business writing courses I decided to write a few short stories based on championship teams to get people talking about football on Facebook. I grabbed a series of Super Bowl and conference championship rings and wrote 15 abstract stories based on what I knew of those teams and could share beyond a box score.

One of which was “The Ghost of Vince Lombardi” and the strange circumstances that befell every 2 time champion trying to win 3 in a row. Yet it was Jerry and several former players responding to the story of the Baltimore Colts not receiving a ring for losing Super Bowl III is when the “Aha” moment came. Like I said I was just trying to get Vance Lockett and a few football fanatics to talk old teams and in one day afternoon more than 500 email notifications while I was out with Edie. That validation is what started me writing and accumulating articles here.

When thinking of content to write about I thought of players who hadn’t made the Pro Football Hall of Fame who should be. If I were in that room with the writers, what would I say to make my point and  deflect counterpoints before they could take shape? On July 26th, 2011 I penned Jerry Kramer Belongs in The Hall of Fame which was read and widely shared. Alicia and I had become friends then and our conversations began.

You wouldn’t believe how many posted and emailed saying they thought Jerry was in already. No… he isn’t. One of the first conversations was with the late Dave Edwards who played across from Jerry’s Packers in The Ice Bowl for the Cowboys. Then Alicia embarked on her journey to raise awareness that her father Jerry, an all time great, had yet to have that “knock on the door”.  Alicia asked if I would help her with the page and without hesitation let her know that I would. I was known for uploading a lot of football footage from all I had recorded from 1982 to the present. So up went “The Ice Bowl” several America’s Game’s for the Lombardi Packers and she grew it from there.

All the while asking people to write Joe Horrigan and the Pro Football Hall of Fame on behalf of her father being selected. She grew that group incredibly quick and a sea of Packer fans flocked to the group in support and the letter writing took off in earnest. Posts with autographs Jerry had given fans over the years, publications shared and everything Jerry to keep the movement going and raise awareness.

There were some disappointing days when Jerry’s name didn’t make it past the semifinal round. Then when it looked like February 2016 as a finalist… this would be it! No knock on the door. However Alicia was the first to tell me Kevin Greene did get in from the hotel in San Francisco and 6 months later I was preparing to go as Kevin and Tara’s guest when I said “Alicia, you have to send me something to wear as a political statement” to which she agreed.

Fully expecting a JK for the Hall of Fame t-shirt, I opened the package to an autographed jersey. I told her I’m wearing it into “The Hall”. Now keep in mind Brett Favre was being inducted also and Packer jerseys were there 10-1. As I toured the autograph area and bunched in with fans trying to catch a glimpse at HOF members going in and out of what I believed was the Nitschke Luncheon. “Jerry should be in the hall!” “Open your doors for #64!” was shouted at least 100 times by Packer fans in the few hours before entering The Hall.

Even met my friend Ryan VanAcker entering the Hall of Fame because of my wearing Kramer’s jersey. Now 2 years later we’re attending Jerry’s enshrinement together from Arizona.

Now we’re just 48 hours away as a 7 year march for TBT and a 46 year march for Jerry concludes Saturday evening. To watch Alicia and Daniel keep up the march from the Facebook page over the years has been special. Especially Alicia as I watched the movement grow from an idea to former players rallying and writing letters, even former Hall of Famers lending their names. Proud of all the work she put in and tirelessly worked toward. I am happy to have been a part of it as a weekend that at times felt would never arrive, is actually upon us.

There will definitely be a few glasses of wine to celebrate Jerry’s enshrinement. A lifetime achievement where he will be recognized as a giant of the game. He’s always been one… its just time for his official commencement. The Chancellor of Football will be boarding a plane in less than 24 hours. I just had to chronicle this before we gather in Canton.

Congratulations Jerry Kramer, you’re a Hall of Famer!

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Missing Rings: 2009 Minnesota Vikings

When you think back to the NFL before the free agency era, you rarely had the chance to see players take on their former team. Not with the venom or emotion we have seen post 1993 as players left as salary cap casualties with something to prove. We watched Hall of Famers like Marcus Allen & Thurman Thomas move to divisional rivals knowing they had 2 shots a year to get some payback. Yet over the years this was rarely seen at the QB position.

Favre’s locker at The Pro Football Hall of Fame on display the day of his induction.

The last true time we saw this was when Joe Montana was traded out of San Francisco to make way for Steve Young. They had rebuilt on the run and were still among the league’s elite and no longer needed their young QB looking over his shoulder at a living legend who played the same position. In 1994 they faced off in an epic week 2 battle that captured the nation’s attention. We wouldn’t see a match-up of this magnitude again for another 15 years.

Now of all the long standing rivalries in the NFL there are few with more hatred between two teams like that of the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. Theirs is a clash of lifestyles, cultures, teams, and an envy from Vikings fans and players of the Packer’s globally revered NFL legacy.

Although the Packers have won 13 championships it’s the legacy of Vince Lombardi and their being “Team of the 60’s” that NFL Films and books have elevated these teams & players to mythic status. Minnesota on the other hand is largely remembered for losing 4 of the first 11 Super Bowls with very few of their great players being recognized by  Pro Football Hall of Fame. One example is Paul Krause, the NFL’s All Time Interceptor with 81 passes. It took 20 years for him to make “The Hall” after a 16 year career. Could you imagine any player who retired #1 in any major statistic waiting that long to make the journey to Canton?? I didn’t think so.

Had the Vikings won those 4 Super Bowls they would have been remembered as the “Team of the 70’s.” There are only 5 members from the Vikings enshrined compared to the 12 from the 60’s Packers and that will increase to 13 when Jerry Kramer gets in this year.

From the mid 90’s on it seemed as though the Viking organization was constantly searching for a QB. The Vikings spent the better part of 2 decades with teams good enough to make the playoffs but not “the guy” to get them over the top. They shuffled in an aging Warren Moon, an enigmatic Jeff George, resurrected Jim McMahon, had journeymen like Sean Salisbury, and revived a retired Randall Cunningham.

In ’98 Cunningham was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year as he threw for 34 TDs. Super rookie Randy Moss set a record with 17 TDs as the Vikings roared to a 15-1 regular season and set the NFL scoring record with 556 points. They were a meteor and was the best of the Denny Green era however they were upset in the NFC Championship 30-27 and had to watch Super Bowl XXXIII.

Lost in this sea of futility, the Green Bay Packers became the center of the universe with the emergence of Brett Favre and the free agent signing of Reggie White. When they won the ’96 Super Bowl, Favre was in the midst of 3 straight MVP seasons and Viking faithful seethed with envy. The hated Packers had become one of the glamour teams and Favre had become the face of the league.

Peterson sets the NFL single game rushing record at 296 yards vs. Chargers.

This went on for years as the Vikings, with Randy Moss, could make the playoffs yet could only muster 1 more championship appearance. Once there, the lights went out in a 41-0 loss to the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship. The most explosive player in football and they couldn’t field a champion with him. After his departure lightning struck again when they landed future Hall of Famer in RB Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft. His rookie year saw him rush for 1,341 yards highlighted by an NFL record 296 yd rushing performance against San Diego. Yikes! His combination of speed and power might have been the most frightening at its zenith in NFL history. If they only could get a quarterback with him they could be lethal…

Elsewhere in the NFC North the Packers had retooled and Favre had become the grand old man trying to get back to the Super Bowl. Gone were the gunslinger days where Brett had to will his team to victory, he was getting by on guile. Timely audibles, leadership and staying controlled within Coach McCarthy’s offense led to a 13-3 record and homefield advantage. Early in the year he eclipsed Dan Marino to become the NFL’s all time touchdown passer, against the Vikings no less. In his 17th season he was the sentimental favorite to win a title in a swan song season that seemed predestined. But alas… the New York Giants upset Green Bay 23-20 in the NFC Championship. Favre had thrown a fatal interception in overtime to Corey Webster…and it was over.

The saga of Brett retiring and unretiring began as the Packers wanted to move on with a young Aaron Rodgers. Having his championship appetite whet he didn’t want to retire. Green Bay didn’t relent and he became a free agent and wound up playing the 2008 season with the New York Jets. He wasn’t inspired and seem to go through the motions and retired again… but when the Vikings came calling… this sent shockwaves through the NFL and a rejuvenated Favre hit the ground running.

Football fans everywhere took sides waiting to see Favre with the hated Vikings take on his old team. Packer fans were outraged he went to Minnesota and felt betrayed. Social media was in its infancy but comments “Judas” and quotes from the Godfather “It was you Fredo!” with pics from the kiss of death scene were everywhere as the buildup for those games began that summer.

To go with All Pro RB Adrian Peterson, the Vikings had developed WR Sidney Rice and drafted wild card and super rookie Percy Harvin off the NCAA champion Florida Gators. Farve had never had this type of firepower in Green Bay and Packer fans were nervous as hell. More important there was a pep in his step as though Favre had stepped back in time 5 years. He returned to being the emotional gunslinger and was on full display in week 3. The Vikings had begun the season 2-0 and were losing at home to San Francisco. They were being accused of looking ahead to the 1st matchup with Green Bay….and then the Vikes got the ball with 1:29 to go needing a touchdown.

The old man swaggered onto the field and brought life to the Viking huddle they hadn’t seen in a decade. A frantic drive saw Favre complete 6 of 8 passes that weren’t spikes and his last pass was a scramble & 32 yard touchdown to Greg Lewis with :02 seconds to go to win 27-24. The Metrodome hadn’t been that loud since the days of Moss and Cris Carter a decade before. Bring on the Packers!!

A raucous crowd awaited a Monday Night audience as the old knight outdueled the young lion in a 30-23 victory. Farve had gone 24 of 31 for 271 yards and 3 TDs where Aaron Rodgers had been sacked 8 times and harassed all night. He threw for 384 yards 2 TDs and an interception and had to play uphill all night. Favre left the field with his arms outstretched amid a sea of reporters. However in week 8 the Vikings would have to take the trek to Lambeau Field. Surely the Packer faithful would be just as loud and unforgiving as the Metrodome crowd had been for Rodgers.

In what might have been the biggest sporting event of the decade the nation tuned in for Favre’s return to Lambeau Field. Had there been pay per view for football games this would have smashed any record any boxing match had ever achieved. All the shows aired specials on the game and all week Fox dotted their television landscape with promos for the Game of the Week. The NFL’s all time winningest QB with the most touchdowns and yardage in NFL history, and the greatest Packer legend was going to be playing in purple and gold?? The mind struggled to take it all in…and when the whistle blew:

When the smoke cleared the Vikings were going into their bye week 7-1 and Favre had definitely had his revenge. In 2 games he completed 41 of 59 for 525 yards 7 TDs and was in complete control where Rodgers threw for 6 TDs, however had 1 interception and was sacked 14 times by the Viking front line. Yes… 14 times!! The Packers only led once in either contest, 3-0 in the 2nd game, and didn’t intercept or sack #4 once in either contest. This was against a Packer defense that finished ranked #2 in 2009. Suddenly the season was at the halfway point and the question had to be asked: Was this the best team in the NFL??

For the season Minnesota finished 2nd against the run & 6th in total defense and led the NFL with 48 sacks. Future Hall of Famer Jared Allen was a menace all year with 14.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, a safety and a touchdown in a season where he was All Pro and made the Pro Bowl. He would have been Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year over the NFL’s choice in Charles Woodson. Why?? In the 2 biggest games of the year Packers vs Vikings, Woodson never intercepted Favre where Allen sacked Aaron Rodgers 7 times which included the safety. This led to Rodgers being the most sacked QB in the NFL in 2009 taken down 50 times. Yes… 7 times. Checkmate!

Allen was joined at the Pro Bowl by fellow defenders CB Antoine Winfield, immovable DT Kevin Williams (also All Pro) and LB Chad Greenway should have been. DE Ray Edwards had a career best 8.5 sacks in ’09 playing across from Jared. MLB E.J Henderson, OLB Ben Leber, DT Pat Williams, and CB Cedric Griffin turned in solid seasons.

Offensively the Vikings finished 5th in the NFL and scored 470 points which ranked 2nd. All World RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,383 yds and a career best 18 TDs while collecting 43 rec. for another 436 yards. Wideout Sidney Rice was another contributor with 83 rec. 1,312 yards and 8 TDs…all career highs. Now add in NFL Rookie of the Year in Percy Harvin who contributed with 925 yards from scrimmage 6 TDs while ranking 3rd on kickoffs with a 27.1 yard avg for 1,100 yards and 2 more scores.   This team had weapons!

Do you realize at 40 years of age Favre completed a career high 68.4% of his passes for 4,202 yards 33 TDs and a career low 7 interceptions?? It was the highest season TD total for #4 in 12 years.

After racing out to a 10-1 start, the Norsemen finished 12-4 as the most complete team in football. Well, some were saying the New Orleans Saints were and after the Vikings stomped Dallas 34-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff, they would meet in the Superdome for the NFC Championship. It was the only time in the 51 year history of the Super Bowl where a QB had taken 2 different teams to the conference championship game in just 3 years.

Favre had grown up just 60 miles from the Superdome and this was the building he had won his Super Bowl title. The script seemed to have been written…

A team that finished 3rd in fewest turnovers allowed w/ 18  during the ’09 regular season turned it over 5 times in New Orleans. The Vikings were able to bring in the catalyst for the best season in 10 years but he couldn’t breathe championship pedigree into players who didn’t have it on the professional level. Well at least for this game.

A 31-28 defeat in overtime to a team they lost the turnover battle to 5-1 on the road. Most teams get blown out yet the Norsemen hung tough and fought to the bitter end. Brett gambled with a bad throw on the Tracy Porter interception when the Vikings were near field goal position to win it in regulation. This became the final on field image of a legendary performer… like it or not. The Saints were off to Super Bowl XLIV where the Vikings had to ponder the what ifs…

The NFL’s best team had to sit and watch the New Orleans win the Lombardi two weeks later and the sports world was left to ponder “what might have been”?  Had the Vikings gone on to win that 1st Super Bowl, Brett Favre would have become the 1st QB to win the NFL Championship with 2 different teams since Norm Van Brocklin in 1960. He did become the 1st QB in the Super Bowl era to lead two different teams to a conference championship appearance in a 3 year period.

In the grand scheme of things it had been a magic carpet ride for fans everywhere. Not only for the middle aged men who got behind an aging lion in a young man’s game, but those who cheer the Viking legacy and almost watched the greatest Packer in history win their 1st Super Bowl Championship. A unique chapter in NFL history remembered at Favre’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. Both by speech as Chris Berman addressed the audience and the display pictured above. For Packer fans that grumbled at the locker display I just encouraged them to stand in front of the Viking jersey when taking their pics. Yet when you look back at the ’09 Vikings overall it was one of the strongest teams in the last 20 years that fell short of Super Bowl glory.

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Todd Christensen Belongs in The Hall of Fame

When Shannon Sharpe was inducted into “The Hall” back in 2011, pundits began to voice which of the new breed would be the next TE to get into Canton. Would it be Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, or Antonio Gates?? There is even outside talk of former Patriot Ben Coates as these were the dominant men at the position over the last 25 years. Uhhh… wait a minute… How did we get this far without mention of former  Oakland/L.A. Raider Todd Christensen??

A man once cut by the Dallas Cowboys found a home in Oakland and became one of the main targets in the heyday of the AFC West. The question that arises is how did we forget Christensen?? Was it the fact he was a specials teams player who didn’t start until his 4th year?? Or is this more bias against the late Al Davis’ Raiders??

In 1980 the NFL was marveling at the performance of future Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow in San Diego. When he burst onto the scene with 89 receptions, a record for Tight Ends at the time, for 1,290 and 9TDs. He became the measuring stick for all who would play his position especially with this only his 2nd season.

When he completed the ’81 season with 88 receptions only future Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome was anywhere near Winslow on the marquee. Or so pundits thought.

In 1981 after becoming the 1st defending Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record (7-9) the following season, the Raiders had to make changes. The 1st is they moved to L.A. then drafted super back Marcus Allen then following an old Raider tradition, converted a former running back into a Tight End…. Todd Christensen. If you went back 2 decades before, the Raiders converted former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon from RB to TE and sparked their run to Super Bowl II.

The ’82 Raiders had the NFL’s best record in a strike shortened season at 8-1, and Christensen finished 5th in receiving among TEs with 42 receptions for 510 yds and 4 TDs. Although the Raiders were upset 17-14 by the NY Jets in the AFC playoffs, a star was born.  The next year saw the Raiders cement the notion they had supplanted the Air Coryell Chargers as the best of the AFC West.

Every great player needs a signature game and in the 14th week of 1983 the Chargers were hosting the Raiders in a special Thursday Night telecast. To add to the excitement both Christensen and Winslow were on pace to tie or break Kellen’s TE record of ’89 receptions set in 1980. In front of a nationwide audience Todd proved his worth.

 

 

Buoyed by this great performance the Raiders propelled themselves to the AFC’s best record at 12-4. Not only did the Raiders go on to win Super Bowl XVIII, Christensen unseated Winslow as the game’s premiere tight end as the loss also ended the reign of “Air Coryell”. His 8 receptions 140 yards and 3 TDs completely outshone his Charger counterpart’s 4 catches for 30 yards. This was the difference between Todd’s record of 92 receptions to Winslow’s 88 to conclude ’83.

Los Angeles Raiders tight end Todd Christensen (46) blocks New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (58) during a 14-9 Giants victory on September 21, 1986, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

As injuries slowed Winslow it was Christensen who went on to maintain Pro Bowl level of play through 1987 when he went to his 5th straight. One aspect of a Tight End is to remember the primary role is to be a blocker. In the ’85 campaign he helped pave the way for NFL rushing champion Marcus Allen who ran for 1,759 yards. The following season he broke his previous NFL record for TEs as he nabbed 95 balls for 1,153 yards and 8 scores.

He led the NFL in receptions in 1983 and 1986 for all receivers not just Tight Ends.

In an era with 2 other Hall of Fame TEs Christensen had the best peak years.

  • Christensen ’83-’86: 349 rec. 4,394 yards 33 TDs *5 Pro Bowls*
  • Winslow ’80-’83: 319 rec. 4,258 yards 33 TDs *4 Pro Bowls*
  • Ozzie Newsome ’81-’84: 296 rec. 3,626 yards 20 TDs *3 Pro Bowls*
  • *Career Pro Bowls listed*

Now to be fair, Winslow and Newsome’s years include the strike shortened ’82 stanza which only had 9 regular season games. However keep in mind Todd was on special teams as a long snapper, set 2 receiving records at TE and blocked for 1985’s MVP and rushing champion Marcus Allen. Then don’t forget one of those record setting season was for a world champion when they won Super Bowl XVIII 38-9 over Washington.

Keep in mind his record for receptions in a season at TE was broken in 1994 by Ben Coates by 1 reception (96). Tony Gonzalez broke it in 2004 with 102 receptions, however Todd is the only one to have set the all time receptions record for a TE twice.

This isn’t to take away from the 2 gentlemen in “The Hall” from the same position, but how can Winslow (inducted in 1995) and Newsome (inducted in 1999) be in and we don’t even hear Christensen mentioned?? Is it because he was a late bloomer who went on to star on the 3rd team he played for?? Is this more of the media bias against Al Davis’ Raiders who seem to come up on the short end when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration??

A part of this has to do with the Raiders moving from Oakland to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland in 1995. Those Los Angeles sportswriters didn’t honor the team and campaign for those players once the team went back up north. Many sportswriters campaign for players whom they lobbied for their team to draft originally and usually in the 1st round. His rocky path to Oakland through Dallas and New York is why he didn’t have that.

Yet they have/had a responsibility and shouldn’t have taken it out on those player’s legacies. I see Bill Plaschke and J.A. Adande all the time on talk shows over on ESPN when they have an obligation as history’s gatekeepers with their fellow writers and they have failed. They are why Todd, Head Coach Tom FloresLester Hayes, and Cliff Branch are on the outside looking in. It’s time to right these injustices.

Christensen deserves to be enshrined in Canton. Although we lost Todd, who passed in 2013, his family and Raider teammates should be able to share in that final honor.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Todd Christensen.

Dedicated in his memory: Todd Christensen (August 3, 1956 – November 13, 2013)

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What Would Bill Walsh Say??

In Dcecember of 2016 NFL Films presented “A Letter to Bill Walsh” by Professor Harry Edwards… What would he say to the Colin Kaepernick protest?? Before spouting nonsense…watch the vid of one of his best friends and confidant who organized the boycott of the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico City. Edwards still works for the 49ers and u can see him on the sidelines and in the locker room of every San Francisco 49er Super Bowl win. Then it got me to thinking “What would my Hall of Fame trip in August been like had he been there?” Sharing his connections of each inductee

It would have been great had he been alive for the last Hall of Fame ceremony and to have met him. He had links to so many who were enshrined. The 1st being Eddie Debartolo, former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, who gave him the coaching job he deserved.

hofticketHe would have mingled with all the former 49ers who were in attendance and partied all week. He would have obviously shared stories with his former offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, whom I did meet right after his QB Brett Favre had just given his induction speech. What stories would they have shared?? I saw Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and bumped into Brent Jones as I entered the Hall of Fame ceremony walking and joking with SS Carlton Williamson off his 1st 2 49er championship teams.

He would have had a blast talking to friend and fellow Northern Californian Dick Vermeil. Of course he was in town for the enshrinement of T Orlando Pace of his Greatest Show on Turf Rams. They were coaching confidants for decades. When Walsh first struggled with the 49ers, Dick was one of the coaches he leaned on. Who kept telling him to “hang in there” as revealed in a 2000 interview with NFL Films. Vermeil, I got the chance to share a laugh and a joke with in the Atlanta airport waiting for our connecting flight to Canton.

Had he been there with me at the time… he could have shared that laugh as Vermeil introduced me to Kevin Greene’s parents sitting next to him. It was Walsh’s failure to block Greene when he had that 4 1/2 sack performance on a Sunday Night to put him on the NFL map in Walsh’s last Super Bowl season in 1988.

Had Bill Walsh been there it would be great to wish Dick Stanfel had been as well. Remember “The Fridge” when Mike Ditka put a defensive tackle in at running back to pay back San Francisco in the 80s?? Well it was Stanfel’s defensive line of the Chicago Bears in the 1984 NFC Championship Game where he put Guard Guy McIntyre in the backfield as an additional blocker. I got to share a couple stories with Bears DT Tyrone Keyes about those glory days hanging in the Canton airport with Hall of Fame LB Ricky “Dome Patrol” Jackson. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to hear all those great stories they would have told had he been there.

stabler-crestI know he would have definitely had a lot to share with all the former Raiders in town for Ken Stabler’s enshrinement. Walsh, Madden, and Stabler were all Bay area legends. It was the Raiders legacy he was chasing all those years in San Francisco. Working to make the 49ers a perennial winner. Fighting for respect from the Bay area press..

Then you have Tony Dungy…one of the first coaches to have come up through the Minority Coaching Fellowship program he founded. Now here he was…the 1st black head coach to win a Super Bowl who was going into the Hall of Fame having coached in much the same temperament as Walsh.

hofdungyspeechCould you imagine the stories he could have shared with all those former LA Rams in attendance?? Certain elements of game plans of what to do against specific Rams they had to game plan for. All those 49ers and Rams were sitting not too far from one another…

Had Bill Walsh been there and broken away from the week long 49er party ( I still haven’t seen Gary Plummer since the Gold Jacket night…lol) could u imagine the game plan stories he could have shared at Gervasi Vineyard as everyone had wine at Kevin’s post enshrinement with all those former Rams?? What questions would they have had for Walsh?? What stories would he have shared??

Bill Walsh had links to everyone who was enshrined this year off the top of my head except Marvin Harrison. There has to be a link there somewhere…just hadn’t thought of it yet..

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Could you imagine the fun had he been there for Canton this last August?? I definitely would have found him and shook his hand… however Walsh, Stanfel, Al Davis and Snake were up there looking down…smiling…and sharing stories of their own.

What would they have been sharing???

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The Chancellor’s Take: Green Bay Packers & Brett Favre’s Broken Relationship – HOF Edition

Originally published 24 July, 2012 w/ Postscript 13, August 2016

Coach Mike Holmgren being carried off after winning Super Bowl XXXI.

Coach Mike Holmgren being carried off after winning Super Bowl XXXI.

Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame last week and didn’t have his two marquee players there with him. Of course the deceased Reggie White couldn’t attend but Brett Favre’s absence was glaring. It would have been in Favre’s best interest to have taken the high road and gone but the lingering hard feelings are evident. It’s time to mend this broken relationship.

What is disturbing is how fast Packers fans turned on him. How hard would it be to leave a job you loved to do?? Many of us can’t answer that because our professions were something we chose to do for financial reasons not one of passion. For every “cheesehead” Packer fan: Can you tell me anything about John Brockington or Terdell Middleton?? You remember those guys right?? How about Vince Ferragamo?? He was the quarterback that took the Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl XIV against the Steelers. You do remember he played for the Packers right?? What number did he wear since #15 was obviously retired for Bart Starr?? For those of us that are 40-45, when we were kids, none of us living outside of Wisconsin could tell you we had met a Packer fan.

After Lombardi, it was 29 years before the Packers played for another NFL title. Green Bay was the place no one wanted to play for. In fact one of the famous quips on NFL Films by Buccaneers former coach John McKay, ” If these guys won’t get back I’ll run ’em to Green Bay.” This was during Tampa’s horrid 0-26 start as a franchise!! The only Green Bay games of distinction during that 3 decade drought that anyone can remember was the 1982 NFL Divisional Playoff loss to Dallas 38-27 and the 1983 Monday Night win over the World Champion Redskins 48-47. The latter was the highest scoring Monday Night Game in NFL history. The Packers returned to national prominence when WR John Jefferson was traded from the San Diego Chargers for those early 80’s seasons.

Brett Favre made it fashionable to be a Green Bay Packer fan.

The real reason why folks can’t remember the aforementioned names and the two games I stated were many of you weren’t Green Bay Packer fans. It didn’t become fashionable until the era of Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren. You may have been cheering for the Los Angeles Rams, St Louis Cardinals, Dallas, or Oakland, but this nationwide surge of Packer fans is new. You can recall the rich Packers history from the 1960’s but the other years lie somewhere in the abyss.

Well in 1992 all of that changed. Brett Favre was on the bench when Don Majowski fell to injury and an umproven player had to come off the bench. We remember him winning the game with a pass to Kittrick Taylor with :23 left in the game. He ran around like a child after winning his first NFL game. He did it again when he did it with less than :40 to go to win his first playoff game when he hit Sterling Sharpe in 1993. He played with passion and from the hip. He broke Ron Jaworski’s record of consecutive games played at QB (114) the week of Walter Payton’s death in 1999. He was still playing in 2009??

During his 16 years he gave everything he could on the field for the Packers. Other quarterbacks are more revered as “West Coast” quarterbacks yet none of them had better seasons than he did. Do you realize the most TDs Joe Montana threw for in a season was 31 during the strike shortened season of 1987?? Brett threw for 38,39, and 33 in 1995-1997 alone in that same offense.  He won those 3 MVPs in those same years. He gave real Packer fans and NFL fans everywhere more thrills than any other player. The “go for it” mentality is what endeared him to most fans not his stats. Although he has plenty now that he is the NFL’s all time winningest quarterback and yardage leader with 71,838 yards and 508 TDs. The question The Chancellor has if he didn’t do enough to decide on when he wanted to retire, who did??

The Packers organization decided to go with Aaron Rodgers after the 2007 season when Favre didn’t want to retire. His decision and indecision was well chronicled over the next few seasons yet it was his play that led the Packers to relevancy. Just like last year it was pointed out that the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and Lucas Oil Stadium itself, wouldn’t be in existence had it not been for Peyton Manning. Lambeau Field has been renovated twice and had a Hall of Fame built inside of it based on the relative wealth this team saw during Favre’s years. The estimated wealth of the Packers rose from less than $200 million to $1.09 Billion last year according to Forbes.

This is good enough for being the 9th richest franchise where they were in the teens in relative worth a decade ago. In fact when you google the relative worth of the Packers organization by year, every time Favre’s name is in the description.  You were able to rebuild your team for Aaron Rodgers because of Favre continuing to win for you while the young players developed. You owe your relative wealth and the development of the new Packers to him.

This is the reason I believe the Packers should reach out to him, retire his jersey on a Monday Night, and have a ceremony for him.  Do it before long-standing resentment settles in. It would be terrible to see this fractured relationship go on for decades like it did for Terry Bradshaw. By the time he and the Steelers came together, Art Rooney Sr, Mike Webster, and Steeler announcer Myron Cope had all passed on. In fact Three Rivers Stadium was even gone. It was bittersweet. In a few years he is eligible for the Hall  of Fame and the league is going to celebrate him and its in the Packers interest to do it first. If you wait until its within a year of his induction, it will look like an afterthought or at worst a knee jerk reaction to his being brought up nationally. This way the healing can start.

Every player that leaves via free agency has wanted to show their old team they could still do it. Its nothing new. Do you remember the round robin of former Chiefs signing with the Raiders and vice versa in the mid 90s?? There were 10 players that left one team and went to the other. RB Harvey Williams, RB Marcus Allen, CB Albert Lewis to name a few. Even Buffalo Bill great Thurman Thomas even signed with the hated Dolphins. Yet he, just like LaDainian Tomlinson this year all came back and signed a 1 day contract so they could retire with their original team. You’ve lost that chance but now you need to make sure he attends the next ceremony. Honor him before the rest of football does or you’ll come off as looking petty. After all you showed him the door…now open a new one and honor him in Packer lore. Time to get over it… now when he walks up to the podium and you see the wear and tear he gave on Lambeau’s surface, the memories will come flooding back to you.

Try this one out: This is the moment The Chancellor believes he left his contemporaries behind and made the Hall of Fame.

After the departure of Packer Hall of Fame coach Mike Holmgrenand Reggie White’s retirement, the Packers weren’t thought of as an elite team. This was 1999 and Ray Rhodes was the coach and being the only marquee player, the team started off 1-1 and in that lone victory Favre took the Packers to the winning score beginning with 1:51 on the clock. Their 3rd game was against the Minnesota Vikings who had unseated the Packers the season before as the bully on the NFC Central block. Randy Moss and the Vikings had scorched the Packers a season before and this was a big game. A defensive struggle that saw Moss score the apparent winning touchdown and gave the Packers the football with 1:51 (ironically) to go. Favre drove his team down and this was the finish…on the move with no time outs on 4th down and the clock running with :20 seconds to go. No way he could do it for a second straight week…. could he??

 

Only two times during John Madden’s career did he make his way down to the locker room to congratulate a player. The first was Emmitt Smith in 1993 when he and the Cowboys beat the Giants 13-10 when he played with a separated shoulder. This was the second. Great players respect great players and you saw Moss come across and greet Favre after the game.  A game for the ages that saw him pull off miracle after miracle and had the Rams and Kurt Warner not emerged, could have had his 4th straight MVP.

Again, as an organization step up and bring Favre in for a retirement ceremony of #4. He deserves it and it would be best for Packer fans and NFL fans everywhere.  Its time.

Postscript August 13, 2016: We fast forward 4 years and last year his return to Lambeau Field was an incredible event. Over 60,000 in Lambeau just for Farve to come on the field and offer a few words before the Packers Hall of Fame celebration. Then the jersey retirement during the season where Bart Starr made it to the game was cathartic for all NFL fans not just those of the Packers. Which brings us to last weekend and his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

VanAcker@hallPacker fans traveled far and wide to attend the enshrinement festivities last weekend. Met them from North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, all of Wisconsin and like my new fellow fanatics Ryan VanAcker (from Arizona) and his brother Ronald from Michigan, Favre fans were out in force.

You could feel the excitement emanating from Packer fans as the induction ceremony neared. The pressure building as Packer jerseys outnumbered all other teams represented 20 to 1 easily. Even on the day I toured “The Hall” for the first time I wore an autographed Jerry Kramer jersey I had received from the family a couple weeks before. Finally the emotion and love for Favre exploded in a crescendo of “Go Pack! Go!” right before Chris Berman introduced him:

 

Although time heals all wounds, there was still the subtle jab of the Favre Viking jersey in the locker display at the Hall of Fame. He said all the right things about “always being remembered as a Green Bay Packer” but you think about it… you can almost see him having a mischievous grin when it came time to decide what to showcase.  But that’s Favre… the fun but flawed, every man who happened to become one of the best quarterbacks in history.

Where Brett wasn’t there for Mike Holmgren’s enshrinement into the Green Bay Packers’s Hall of Fame, coach was in Canton for this one. I had the chance to meet him right after the ceremony and it was a great experience to be there. As we left Tom Benson Stadium headed for the shuttles to the Hall of Fame after-parties, Holmgren and I spoke of the ceremony and I let him know I thought he will be in Canton one day. The irony of this article hit me like a ton of bricks.favre.bust

Congratulations Brett Favre… Pro Football Hall of Famer!

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Kevin Greene Belongs In The Hall of Fame: War Damn Eagle – HOF Edition

kevin-greene-pittsburgh-steelers-unsigned-8x10-photo5_2860d2f89fbbfa8abd33b1369cf0eb00Originally Published 3, March 2011 w/ Postscript 10, August 2016 

There are players that come along and break the mold and there are those that totally destroy it.  Enter Kevin Greene, one of my personal favorite players and one of the reason I love football (all sports) in the first place.  He broke molds, stereotypes, changed perceptions as much as any player over the last 25 years.  What am I talking about? Do you realize that of all the outside linebackers, the player with the most sacks in a career is Kevin Greene?  Do you realize that Kevin Greene had double digit sacks for FOUR different pro football teams? Yet I digress…

As the 1980’s beckoned, the 3-4 defense became the choice of many teams as the best way to attack NFL offenses.  All that changed with the 1985 Chicago Bears march to the Super Bowl. As teams started to revert back to the 4-3 defense as a staple, a lessor known talent started to lay his foundation out west with the Los Angeles Rams in 1986.

Kevin Greene started to rush as an outside linebacker in 1986 and recorded 7 sacks that year. Yet he didn’t gain notoriety until 1988 when he bested Lawrence Taylor with 16 1/2 sacks to 15 1/2 for the NFC lead at linebacker.  Whereas the majority of the modern age athletic linebackers were black, Kevin Greene was a white defensive player who broke that mold and with his crazy “War Eagle” Auburn attitude he was a great pass rusher from that season on.  A player that other Rams looked to on game day to lead them on and off the field.

In his single season in San Fran, Greene helped the ‘Niners to the 1997 NFC Championship against Green Bay.

However by the time we move to 1993, very few teams employed the 3-4 defense. Then the Steelers went looking for a linebacker to match Greg Lloyd that would be more effective than Jerrol Williams.  Kevin Greene signed, and Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh.

The Steelers had two outstanding linebackers to crash the pocket.    The last bastion of 3-4 defense at the time and Greene was the impetus of a chaotic defense.  Who should blitz? Who should drop? Dick Lebeau, Dom Capers, and Bill Cowher tinkered with different zone blitzing schemes that became the scourge of the league.  He helped the ’94 and ’95 teams to the AFC Championship and Super Bowl XXX respectively.  During his 3 years in Pittsburgh he recorded 12.5 sacks in ’93,  14 sacks in ’94, and 9 sacks in ’95.  It was Kevin Greene’s arrival that made the Steelers defense lethal.

Even after outplaying the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX and poised to return to the title game again from a personnel standpoint, the Steelers let Greene go for a younger Jason Gildon.  He rejoined Dom Capers who moved on to become head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers and tag teamed with Lamar Lathon, formerly of the Houston Oilers, to form a 1-2 linebacker punch equal to that of Blitzbugh.

He recorded his second highest career sack total, at the time, with 14.5 in Carolina. He led the league with Lathon coming in second in sacks with 13.5.  Again he was the impetus of a veteran laden defense that dethroned the champion Dallas Cowboys in a divisional playoff and made it to the 1996 NFC Championship Game where they lost to Green Bay.  The Carolina Panthers made it to the NFC Championship Game in only their second season.  Wow.

After a falling out with Carolina brass following that 1996 season, for which owner Jerry Richardson later apologized, he signed a 1 year deal in San Francisco where he was a pass rushing specialist and only started four games.  Yet amazingly he still compiled 10.5 sacks and helped the 49ers to the 1997 NFC Championship game where they fell to the Packers 23-10.  See a pattern here?  After the apology from Richardson, Greene re-signed with Carolina and played on for two more years for them recording 15 sacks in 1998 and 12 in 1999.

Kevin Greene was a street fighter tough player who brought that attitude to any team he played for.  He was a blood and guts player that teamed with Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon, each had their best years across from Greene.

What was the most puzzling aspect of Kevin Greene’s career was how teams kept thinking they’d replace him even though he was super productive and I wonder would he have moved around so much had he been a black outside linebacker.  I don’t think he would have.  You can’t tell me race had nothing to do with it either.  He was athletic, strong, tenacious and for the life of me can’t figure why teams  thought they’d replace him.  Do you realize that for 4 straight years, Kevin Greene was a defensive stalwart on 3 different teams that made it to the conference championship game?  Twice is a coincidence, four is a pattern.  He was a winner.

Greene, making his presence felt early in the 1994 AFC Championship Game.

How do you gauge impact?  The most sacks in NFL history for a linebacker with 160 and third all time behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith.  He was a 5 time Pro Bowl participant and made the All Pro team twice. He led the league in sacks twice during his career. If that’s not enough… Add the fact Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon’s best sack totals of their careers came when they teamed with Greene.  Lloyd had 10 sacks in 1994 and the aforementioned Lathon’s 1996 total of 13.5 in Carolina.

Each team he left had a defensive dropoff in production and wins.  The ’96 Steelers barely made the playoffs and were run out of town in New England when they got there, thanks to Curtis Martin’s 166 yards rushing, losing 28-3.  The 97 & 2000 Panthers didn’t make the playoffs. The 98 49ers were scored upon heavily even though they made the divisional round of the playoffs.  Even then they needed Steve Young’s miracle throw to T.O. to beat the Packers to get there.

So if the greatest defensive player in NFL history is Lawrence Taylor, rightfully so, who finished with 132 sacks in his career, where does that put Kevin Greene and his 160?? Happened in the same era, so that can’t be argued.  Quite simply he belongs.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Kevin Greene.

EPILOGUE:  I am getting the greatest kick out of watching the growth of Clay Matthews III.  Its like watching some weird Frankenstein thats part Clay Matthews the father (Browns) and Kevin Greene.  The style of play and to watch them interact.  I was fortunate enough to be on the Ravens sideline pregame and front row seats behind the Baltimore Ravens bench when they played the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

I watched how Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis interacted and see much the same in Greene and Matthews.  When the television mic caught Greene conveying to Matthews during the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XLV that it was time for him to put his imprint on the game.  Then to watch him force the Mendenhall fumble two plays later gave me goosebumps.  To watch him so in tune with his protege’ is cool and can’t wait to watch their encore.

Greene and protege’ Clay Matthews III

Postscript August 10, 2016: Fast forward 5 years and here we are a couple days removed from Kevin’s enshrinement into The Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had the great opportunity to be there at both the Gold Jacket Ceremony and The Enshrinement as his guest. For the small role I had in advocating his candidacy may have been the sole reason for Taylor Blitz Times in the first place. It was an honor to do it and I am grateful to Kevin and his wife Tara for inviting me.

kev.ticketHowever they set a football fanatic on the unsuspecting city of Canton. I had the chance to meet with former teammates and coaches that have known him over his football life. His coaches from high school all the way through to the NFL. I jumped in and made sure to get down into where the fans were and wound up becoming the 1st person to pay for his authenticated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame autograph.

chancellor.kevTo watch him receive his Gold Jacket was an emotional moment as a big time fan. To hear his impassioned speech gave credence to all that I knew and heard over the last few days from his Auburn, Rams, and Steelers’ teammates, his father at the airport with Coach Vermeil, his high school freshman coach Nick Petrillo, to meeting Lamar Lathon at the after party who was recalling this very article with Thurman Thomas.

It was great to see Kevin take his rightful place and become one of the giants of the game and one of it’s great ambassadors. It’s been an unbelievable 5 year ride as you’ve taken your place as one of pro football’s immortals. Congratulations Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene!!

kev.bust.pngAs for that ticket… he signed a white Steelers #91 Greene jersey. The whereabouts of the ticket?? I gave it to Kevin who put it in his Hall of Fame Gold Jacket interior pocket… mission accomplished!

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